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Posters produced for a recent street protest in Melbourne, Australia

Thai Navy Asked to Explain Complaint

Tuesday, March 25, 2014
PHUKET: The Royal Thai Navy will be asked to supply more evidence and a justification for its criminal libel action against Reuters international news agency, the policeman investigating the case said today.

Colonel Somkid Onjan, Deputy Superintendent of Phuket's Vichit Police Station, met with the Phuket Prosecutor this morning and was told to seek answers from the Navy.

''Essentially the question the Prosecutor had for the Navy was: 'Why are you a victim?''' the colonel said.

The developing case against Reuters and the two authors of a special report on Rohingya boatpeople concerns the same paragraph as a case already underway against Phuketwan's parent company, Big Island Media, and journalists Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian.

Accused of breaches under Thailand's criminal defamation and Computer Crimes Act, Morison and Khun Chutima face up to seven years' jail and a fine of 100,000 baht.

Human rights and media rights groups have said the Royal Thai Navy is behaving in bullying fashion to intimidate and silence the media over coverage of human trafficking and the Rohingya.

Phuketwan has been praised for its work reporting the exodus from Burma through Thailand of thousands of the persecuted boatpeople. Reuters' reports have often expanded upon Phuketwan's coverage by taking a broader regional approach.

Reuters published online a special report on July 17 last year and Phuketwan carried excerpts from the Reuters report.

The same day, Captain Panlob Komtonlok of Royal Thai Navy 3, which oversees the Andaman Sea coast, complained to Vichit police about a paragraph that he said brought the Royal Thai Navy into disrepute.

The action was endorsed by the Assistant Commander in Chief of the Royal Thai Navy, Admiral Polawat Sirodom, on October 4.

It's a highly unusual prosecution because when accusations are made in the media about Thailand's military or police, the normal response of officers is to speedily hold a news conference to explain their side.

To have the Navy suing the media is regarded by many as an abuse of freedom of speech and an indication that Thailand's democracy remains immature.

While the case against Reuters and the authors of the contentious paragraph has yet to go ahead, the case against Phuketwan is proceeding.

The Phuket journalists are required to reappear at the Phuket Prosecutor's office on April 17 to learn whether the matter will go to court.

If the case reaches court, Morison has said he is prepared to go to jail rather than pay bail in protest at what he says is a trumped up charge that threatens media freedom in Thailand.

Both criminal defamation and the Computer Crimes Act are considered by rights advocates to be bad laws.

The action so far has served to unite the issue of media freedom with the Royal Thai Navy's prolonged silence about the treatment of Rohingya boatpeople on land and in Thai waters.

Comments

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I like the way this is headed ... then again, you ever seen a politician/military officer hold their hands up and say "sorry, I was completely wrong" ? Good work by the Army this week though. Surely that can only go towards proving the truth. Although people tend to look after their own, especially when foreigners are involved (the world over). I hope the army has a good brave chief that is prepared to drag this trafficking fully into the light.

Posted by James on March 25, 2014 18:07

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In their attempt to gain face by filing charges against Reuters the Navy made a serious tactical error.

The prosecutor will now examine if their complaint has any merit and should it be dismissed, then as a consequence it would be impossible to press charges against PW for quoting something that was already found not to breach the law.

Where PW could be considered a soft target, Reuters is NOT and pressing charges against them would have far more ramifications than those currently laid against PW.

A fact the prosecutor cannot ignore and this news indicates the game has entered a whole new level.

Posted by ThaiMike on March 25, 2014 19:07

Editor Comment:

PW is hardly a soft target, ThaiMike. And the ramifications in both cases would appear to be precisely the same. Reuters is large but has so far failed to say a lot in relation to their paragraph. Perhaps a classy statement in defence of media freedom is on the way. We hope so.

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Yes, but this case has the potential to close down Phuketwan if it proceeds and you are found guilty of these trumped up charges. It won't shutdown Reuters Worldwide though or distract them from reporting the news.

Good luck

Posted by Ted Turner on March 25, 2014 21:19

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In the eyes of the Navy PW was the soft target and Reuters the difficult one.

Their perception does not reflect the reality but judging by how they've gone about this I find that the most plausible explanation.

By ramifications I mean the huge international in-house media network Reuters has to ensure maximum coverage.

The fact that they have chosen to remain virtually silent until now is not a compliment to them but now it may be that their hand is forced.

Whatever the reasons, I see this action as a positive move in regard to the PW case.

Posted by ThaiMike on March 25, 2014 21:58

Editor Comment:

There is no guessing what the one or two people who launched both prosecutions on the same day were thinking.


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